I make no secret of the fact that I am an aficionado of weird music. I particularly like bands that venture into the dark side of the human psyche, working within the genres known as industrial and dark ambient. To find this sort of music, you will not be surprised that I frequently have to look a little farther than the local Wal-Mart or Sam Goody. To that end, I often rely on independent mail order companies, when even the mighty Amazon can’t slake my thirst for otherworldly sounds.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I recently discovered that Soleilmoon, a company that stocks many of my favorite artists and with whom I have done business in the past, shows up on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s map of “Hate Music.” The SPLC is dedicated to smoking out racist organizations like the KKK, and anyone who promotes a racist or white nationalist agenda.
This is a worthy goal, to be sure, but I was baffled and a little alarmed to see a company (one of many, I might add) that does nothing more than offer distribution for experimental bands to be lumped in with active Neo-Nazis. What was going on here?
I want to push back against this idea that, if you enjoy art, you must implicitly approve of the artist.
It turns out, the listing has to do with the fact that one of the bands on Soleilmoon’s roster is Death In June, an influential neofolk group that expresses anti-Christian themes and uses some fascist imagery in its album art. The band’s leader, Douglas P., has been cagey about openly expressing his political views, but it seems that they are Eurocentric and quite possibly a bit racist. For the crime of distributing the band’s records, Soleilmoon has been labeled as a hate music organization. You can read SPLC’s statement on the issue here.
This all strikes me as a little silly. I am somewhat familiar with Death In June, and while I don’t count myself a particular fan, it’s easy to see why their sound would be appealing to many, regardless of the political overtones in the lyrics. But even if you regard their music as overtly hateful (which I think is a bit of a stretch, but never mind) does it make sense to target distributors who cater to a very specific musical subculture that, as a whole, has nothing to do with fascism? I should note that Death In June’s albums are also available on Amazon.com and a number of other online retailers, none of which have been singled out by SPLC.
Why do I care about this seemingly minor issue? Two reasons, really. The first is that I think it is irresponsible to label a small business as a purveyor of hate without any real understanding of what that business does or is about. Bad press like that can drive independent sellers out of business, further consolidating the market in the hands of a few giants like Amazon. I don’t approve of smearing the reputation of a legitimate business without good cause.
More importantly, though, I want to push back against this idea that, if you enjoy art, you must implicitly approve of the artist, and any views the artist might hold. This seems to be increasingly the way our country does business, where employees are fired for their political views, and witch hunts are demanded for anyone who doesn’t conform to the current standard of constant virtue signaling and liberal values.
Before you read any further, please listen to this song. Recognize it? Maybe you even had it played at your own wedding or the wedding of someone you care about. Do you like it? Well, if you do, congratulations. You’re a Nazi. That song, most commonly referred to as “Here Comes the Bride” is actually the wedding march from Lohengrin, an opera by German composer Richard Wagner. Wagner was a noted anti-Semite and his music was embraced and promoted by the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany.
The above example is designed to show the absurdity of the guilt by association mindset, the idea that there is no meaningful separation between art and artist.
Liking the Art Does Not Necessitate Agreeing with the Artist on Everything
Not every fan of country music is a conservative Christian. Not everyone who listens to Pink Floyd is a Socialist.
As it happens, I listen to lots of bands with a wide variety of political views. My album collection exceeds a thousand records. I also happen to gravitate towards rather extreme forms of music, as many people do who have sampled conventional songwriting enough to get bored of it. Extreme music tends to be made by people with extreme views. I have albums made by socialists, communists, Democrats, Republicans, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus. I have plumbed the depths of anarchist punk and the wintry wastes of Scandinavian heathen metal. If the maxim “you listen to X band, therefore you must hold their views” holds true, then I must simultaneously be all of those things, which is, of course, a logical impossibility.
Not every fan of country music is a conservative Christian. Not everyone who has enjoyed the solemnities of a classical requiem mass by Mozart or Verdi is a devout Catholic. Not everyone who listens to Pink Floyd is a Socialist. This is not complicated, and yet it has to be explained over and over again.
The reason is obvious. People are so afraid of being tainted with even a whiff of racism that they will do or say just about anything to distance themselves from that hateful ideology. The fear of having one’s reputation tarnished is enough to enforce silence and conformity on people who’ve never had a racist thought in their lives. I get it. I had some trepidation even writing this piece for fear that, by admitting to my musical tastes, I would become a target. But it’s important to overcome this fear and speak the truth because the alternative is to become part of a political machine that enforces obedience and phony piety at the altar of political correctness.
At this point, let me reiterate: I am not defending Nazis, white nationalists, racists, or any other similar views. They are all hateful to me, as is any ideology that subjugates the individual before a group label. I am not using “political correctness” as a code word for common decency and humanity, as so many on the Alt-Right tend to do. What I am protesting is the idea that a person ought to be condemned, shamed, and bullied, not for his own views, but for the types of art he enjoys in the privacy of his own home.
I don’t want to live in a world where we can only listen to “approved” music. Now, you may well ask, isn’t it legitimate to point out that by purchasing art whose creators are still alive, and who hold views we find distasteful, we are indirectly providing revenue to a cause we may detest? Maybe. But does that hold true through all aspects of society? Should no employer hire such a person? Should no one agree to trade with them? In a word, should they be made to starve? It seems a bit of a harsh punishment for the mere crime of expressing an unpopular opinion. Moreover, it is likely that nearly every company we transact with employs one or more people whose views we would object to. Is it wrong to engage in any commerce at all, for fear of putting money in the pockets of those we disapprove of? Obviously, this is not a workable solution.
As a libertarian anarchist, I find most political views other than my own pretty repellant. Using the force of the state to coerce others into acting against their wills is not something I particularly want to support with my own money. But in the entertainment industry, in particular, you can’t turn around without bumping into an openly authoritarian socialist. Most people accept that if I go see a Sean Penn movie, I am not endorsing the views of a man who palled around with dictators like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. But there is a different standard for the far right, even though communism and fascism both killed millions of people. To refuse to spend my money on entertainers whose views I dislike would be to deprive myself of entertainment altogether, which seems rather a pauperish way to live one’s life.
What worries me is the chilling effect on free expression that occurs when we hold people responsible for the views of others. I don’t want to live in a world where we can only listen to “approved” music, only watch “approved” movies, and only read “approved” books, for fear of being labeled a racist, a fascist, or some other epithet that stands to ruin careers, reputations, and relationships alike.
As an alternative, I propose that we judge people by their own statements, by the content of their character, as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently articulated, and leave this guilt-by-association nonsense by the wayside where it belongs.